Werner Aisslinger is one of Germany’s most sought-after designers. He talks to COMPANION about the new 25hours Hotel The Circle Cologne, analogue places in a digital world, and working in the bathtub.
COMPANION: Werner, in your work you often deal with how we will live, and, above all, work in the future. What drives you?
WERNER AISSLINGER: Our whole work and office life will change — more than we can imagine at the moment. Factory production will be completely automated and all non-robots, thus humans, who still work will do so in new, efficient feel-good locations, which still need to be discovered.
In places like the new 25hours Hotel The Circle Cologne that you designed? There is a coworking space in the café there.
Well, if you look at companies such as WeWork, coworking is an exceptional, growing phenomenon worldwide. The question is, of course, why can’t hotels, which already have the infrastructure for food and coffee and well-being, become coworking locations? After all, these days tech companies like Apple send their employees to coworking hotels by the beach so they can work and relax — it’s creating a whole new market.
Given their structure, are hotels suitable coworking locations?
Yes, for that very reason. They are much more suitable than places that are purely coworking spaces, which try to organize the needs of community, services, and well-being around the working areas — this is already the case at hotels. We estimate that two thirds of the users of the coworking space here are locals, with the other third being hotel guests.
So no lonely hours at a hotel desk in the evening then?
We don’t even include desks in our hotel projects anymore. People prefer to sit on the bed in their room in the evening to answer emails, and during the day they prefer to be part of a community and sit in public spaces, which will increasingly take the form of coworking areas.
You also designed the “Cowork Bath” — a bathroom with an area to work in. Is this an idea that has potential for the future?
It was for the “House of Wonders” exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne art gallery in Munich. The show was all about life in the future and played around with new hybrid residential concepts, which had not been previously linked. Often my best ideas come to me in the bath.
How do you create places where people feel relaxed but can also work productively?
Just as with many other places, space, acoustics, and light are very important. For coworking, Wi-Fi speed plays a role, too. For us designers it’s all about being extremely advanced. We have to generate euphoria and enthusiasm among coworkers. They need to feel they are part of a community in an extremely cool and unusual atmosphere. If the service is right and people can network on a professional business level, then it works.
Doesn’t the Kölsch beer on the counter distract them from their work?
Well, the media industry is pretty successful in Cologne, so the link between Kölsch and work seems to be functioning alright.
A coworking space ties in with the overarching theme of the 25hours Hotel The Circle Cologne: to a certain extent, the “New Worlds” theme celebrates retro-futurism.
It’s about a utopian time and the technology euphoria of the 1950s and 60s when people dreamed of a better future and life on Mars. Our hotel concept picks up this topic of euphoria without being a “2001: A Space Odyssey” space hotel. Today we see hotels as vibrant, unconventional venues that like to inspire and surprise their guests, and liven them up more than they might expect from a hotel. Analogue places have to work hard to keep up with the digital world nowadays.
Is this design approach reflected in the coworking café?
We created a coworking world through extremely interesting, futuristic workstations — all of which are unique designs. For example, there are “working units” — small individual work spaces into which you can retreat, like with the mini textile shelter. Connectivity and design: those are the issues. I believe design accounts for 90% of a coworking space. Putting office swivel chairs in glass boxes isn’t really that exciting in the long term.